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March 3, 2003

The gift of hearing

From: Greensburg Daily News, IN - 03 Mar 2003

Jim Cummings
Staff Writer

Wayne Huey will never take talking on the telephone for granted again. Until last summer, he wasn't sure he'd ever hear one ring again.

A dual cochlear implant, however, changed the future for Huey, a 45-year-old truck driver and Greensburg High School graduate who lived in the city until 2000.

Cochlear implants are small, complex electronic devices that, surgically placed under the skin behind the ear, can help provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.

A cochlear implant has four basic parts: a microphone, speech processor, transmitter and receiver/stimulator and electrodes, which collect the impulses from the stimulator and send them to the brain.

The son of William and Eleanor Huey of County Road 400S, Huey moved to Missouri to live the quiet life after losing the hearing in his left ear in 1997, and knowing the hearing in his right ear was slowly degenerating.

He is unsure how he lost his hearing but thinks it's part genetics -- one of his grandmothers lost her hearing -- and partly related to a medical problem which required him to take inordinate amounts of antibiotics.

Huey and his wife of 26 years, Darleen, bought a farm in Jamesport, Mo., figuring he would never again be allowed to drive a tractor trailer. He'd decided he would grow old working on his farm.

"I began to read lips and talked with my wife about learning sign language," Huey said in a phone interview.

"I never got too far with the sign language because it was tough to learn a new way to communicate after 40 years. My wife was beside me all of the time and we both just started to accept the fact that I'd never hear again."

All of that changed, however, last July 11, when Huey was invited to take part in a clinical trial conducted by Cochlear Corporation and the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA and the implant manufacturer were attempting to test the feasibility of offering patients the opportunity to undergo bilateral cochlear implantation rather than the current practice of implanting the device in just one ear.

This was vital for Huey, because he had now been deaf in his right ear since 2001.

Huey was one of only a handful of people given the opportunity to take part in the study. He underwent the operation at the Midwest Ear Institute (MEI) in Kansas City, Mo.

While Huey's operation went well, according to his doctors, it would be almost a month before anyone would know if the surgery was successful. He returned to MEI Aug. 11 for the unveiling.

"I didn't get my hopes up. I never figured it would work that well," he said.

"But, as soon as they turned on the device I could understand speech. I could hear my wife's voice in the background.

"There were three nurses in the office. Two of them went out of sight and started making sounds to see if I could find out where the noises were coming from. Right away I knew I could."

Huey is a 6-foot, 220-pound bearded truck driver. Not much can make him cry, but this experience came close.

"It took three days for the reality that I could hear again to sink in," he said. "I think eight years of going deaf had hardened me. I wasn't going to let myself get too emotional either way.

"I didn't let myself cry but if anything was going to get to me, it was hearing the voices of my family again."

In fact, Huey had never heard his 4-year-old granddaughter Keyonie's voice. Also, Johnathan, his 5-year-old grandson, was taught to say "Papa" as his first word, since family members feared Huey would never hear it from him.

"I remember the night we got back from the doctor's office, and the implant was on, Wayne went out to sit on the porch," said Darleen, also a Greensburg native.

"He said he could hear the frogs and the other nighttime sounds. That was amazing for all of us.

"We had gone through a lot of adjustments in the past few years but we were always there for each other. It's wonderful having his hearing back but no matter what, we would have always been this close. We believe marriage is about being there and taking care of each other. No matter what."

The pair now spends much of their time talking to patients who may undergo the surgery and handing out pamphlets about hearing disorders.

"For anyone with the slightest possibility they may recover their hearing, I want them to hear again," Darleen said.

"There are lots of hearing disorders, and people suffering from hearing loss should make an effort to learn as much about it as they can. We never thought Wayne would hear again and we wake up every day in awe."

According to 2002 data from the Food and Drug Administration, approximately 59,000 people worldwide have received single cochlear implants. In the United States, about 13,000 adults have the implants and nearly 10,000 children have received them.

The excitement behind Huey's newly recovered hearing doesn't end at the Missouri farm.

His parents are also elated.

"Wayne and I hadn't talked on the telephone for several years. When he called me I was overjoyed. That was a great day," said Eleanor, Wayne's mother.

"If this operation didn't work I don't know what was left. I think he would have given up. I'm so happy for him that ironically, you just can't put it into words."

Wayne's father Bill is equally happy -- and proud of his son.

"His hearing is almost 100 percent now," Bill said.

"That is phenomenal. Just since November he has transported over 100,000 tons of grain.

"And we never thought he'd drive a truck again."

©2000 The Greensburg Daily News. A cnhi Media Newspaper